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Feb. 24 2010 - 10:07 am | 1,144 views | 1 recommendation | 5 comments

L.A. city attorney cracks down on illegal use of ’supergraphic signs’

Gap 'supergraphic' in downtown L.A. (Photo: Curbed)

Gap 'supergraphic' in downtown L.A. (Photo: Curbed)

According to a report yesterday from the Los Angeles Times, L.A. city attorney Carmen Trutanich has filed a lawsuit against businesses and individuals accused of placing illegal “supergraphic signs” (i.e. monster-sized vinyl/plastic images that often cover the entire side of a building) at multiple locations across the city.

If you’re not familiar with these types of signs, note the photograph above. And if an example from the Gap doesn’t suffice, there’s always McDonald’s, Ford, Apple, Disney, TravelChannel.com, and Showtime. Some context from the L.A. Times:

The nuisance abatement lawsuit filed Monday contends the oversized advertisements were placed illegally on the Sherman Oaks Galleria, the Howard Hughes Center in Westchester and buildings in North Hollywood, Sherman Oaks and elsewhere.

In his first billboard nuisance case since he took office July 1, Trutanich said he intends to seek fines of up to $5,000 a day for each day an illegal supergraphic is on a building. In cases in which a sign is illegally placed next to a freeway, Trutanich also intends to seek $10,000 plus $100 for each day an unpermitted sign is up.

Apparently, Trutanich’s suit is just another move in a deepening battle to enforce L.A.’s outdoor advertising laws — and potentially quell the anger of neighborhood activists. And according to an earlier L.A. Times report, neighborhood activists aren’t the only people expressing their frustration, tenants occupying buildings with supergraphic signs aren’t pleased either. Patricia Barragan, who owns a physical therapy practice in an office building on Santa Monica Boulevard, is one example:

“When I came to work after Christmas, I had this horrible orange drape that diminished the light in my activity room and my treatment room by almost 40%,” she said. “The first patients who came in at 7 o’clock said, ‘What is this? This is depressing. I don’t want to be treated in these depressing rooms.’”

While Trutanich’s suit cites 27 defendents, it appears a showdown has been ongoing between one particular billboard company, World Wide Rush, and the City of Los Angeles for several years now:

In her ruling of August, 2008, in the case of World Wide Rush v. City of Los Angeles, [U.S. District Judge Audrey Collins] found that ban was fatally flawed because it allowed exceptions for sign districts, specific plan areas, and approved development agreements. World Wide Rush, a Pennsylvania sign company, had been cited for putting up supergraphic signs in violation of the ban at several locations. After that ruling, a number of other sign companies filed lawsuits against the city seeking orders prohibiting enforcement of the ban against their advertising signs. (via Ban Billboard Blight)

Gary Mobley, the attorney for World Wide Rush, was quick to point out this 2008 ruling when the L.A. Times asked about Trutanich’s suit: “It appears that the city is setting up a major confrontation with Judge Collins on respecting her permanent injunction.”

What’s interesting in this battle are how supergraphics — of all the hundreds of millions of advertisements — are what pushed it too far for city officials in L.A. If you’ve ever been to L.A., you know how deeply saturated the city is with advertising. So Trutanich’s suit begs the question: Why now care now when the protection of public space has been disregarded for so long? Perhaps it’s because, in a city so densely populated, buildings and skyscrapers are some of the last blank visual spaces, aside from looking out at the ocean. But according to Trutanich, “the illegal supergraphics are a public nuisance, distracting motorists, adding to the city’s visual clutter and making it more difficult for firefighters to enter windows in the event of a fire or other emergency.”

It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

Thanks to True/Slant’s Michael Roston for the tip.


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  1. collapse expand

    Odd that the article doesn’t specify that the signs are illegal because of city ordinance; not that they were placed their absent a contract with the buildings’ owners. It seems more likely that it’s the former (otherwise the buildings owners would be suing as well), in which case the woman on Santa Monica Blvd. should complain to her landlord and not the LA Times. Unless the landlord’s right to cover the windows with vinyl was written into the lease, it seems like it’d be illegal.

    • collapse expand

      I’m under the impression that the 2008 injunction by U.S. District Judge Audrey Collins is a major sticking point in this battle. For example, if L.A. city officials attempt to enforce the city’s ban on illegal supergraphics, they then run up against this injunction, and the signs either stay or get bogged down in a legal battle on a sign-per-sign basis. I’m interested to hear what a different judge has to say if/when this gets into court.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
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